There have been a lot of people who have asked why I am passionate about football and why I travelled to South Africa to see World Cup considering the risks involved, I always found it extremely hard to make them understand, and according to me it has to be experienced. For someone like me who grew up playing football from a very young age in a small village called Venkitangu in Kerala, for whom playing football was experiencing ecstasy beyond compare, enabling me to exhaust all my physical strength, forgetting everything from pain to sorrow, football is much more than a'passion'.
I still remember the earlier days, when we used to play matches with neighboring villages having just 3-4 members a side, the amount of running one had to do was unbelievable even for a 40 minute game, and you could not stop even if you are hurt, even if one player stopped then the team was sure to lose. we played like there was no tomorrow, falling often and getting scars some of which have remained till date, but I still do not remember stopping a game because of pain, it was only after the game you realized the pain, and you always felt the game was worth it and there was never ever even a slightest feeling of regret.
Football had become a part of me, so when I moved to Bangalore I could not help but continue playing the beautiful game. I remember the games with my cousin and a few friends on the tarred roads of first block Koramangala and matches in the Police quarters ground with my school mates and their neighbors. Then I moved to 7th block Koramangala and almost the same time I joined St. Josephs school, the high school days were filled with football, on a typical day I would spend 20 minutes playing football while waiting for the school bus, almost 30 minutes after lunch in the school and atleast about an hour in the evening near the house. Saturdays and Sundays saw us playing matches with the neighboring blocks in Koramangala, most notably with the KHB colony team. I remember most of us played the opposition like they were our enemies; it would be fair to say that it is only after the game that we became humans again.
Football taught me to respect people for the their game, I remember the captain from KHB colony team who used to the target of our calculated attacks when we play, but after the game I always had a feeling he was a very good person just by judging the way he plays football and behaves on the field. Football gave me some of my best friends, most notably Gopakumar (Gopi) who was one year my junior but the respect for each others game became a pivotal bonding in our unforgettable friendship. Playing football in St. Josephs I H S during lunch break was an experience, on a typical day there would be around 20-25 teams playing on the two grounds available. So a ground of 150ftx250ft had about 100 odd children playing and it was common for someone like me to run past the players only to bang head-on to players from other teams apart from your opposing team. And a lot of times the game used to be played using the ‘rubber balls’ or ‘tennis balls’ and you can imagine the task of guiding the small ball through a crowd of players with out getting kicked on your legs. I also got to play couple of times for the school team when they had shortage of regular players. I was never part of regular school team, for a couple of reasons one I was not so good and the second I was never able to go for the practice and it was mandatory to go for morning practices at about 6 AM to be part of the regular team.
The college days in St. Josephs was fun although the playing time reduced considerably, we still played whenever we could, sometimes even in the commerce college grounds. The highlight happened during my degree days (3 months before I joined engineering), we had an intra college tournament and I was the captain of my ‘class team’ and we won 6-7 matches to win the championship defeating the teams from 2nd and final year degree classes. I just can not forget the final against a third year team which had 7 players from the college team; we beat them in the penalties after a 1-1 draw in the regular time. The only goal in regular time from our team being scored by me, I also managed to score in the penalty kicks. This was great achievement as we had put together a new team from our class 40 odd students, most of us hardly knowing each other as we had joined Degree College just a month or two back.
The engineering days gave opportunity for even more football, we used to play almost every evening even compromising the time with girls/girlfriends, going for movies and of course drinking with friends, which was the most sought after activities in small town like Tumkur. For a few of us football had the top priority and everything else came a distant second. I was lucky to have room mates like Jeff and Jijo, who were equally passionate about the game. Most of the days we used to play till it becomes dark and then have a lazy walk to our house to have showers and by the time we are back from the mess after a good dinner we were completely exhausted to do anything but sleep. In our college we had the inter-departmental tournament every year and I remember I had the privilege of being in the Electronics team all the 3 years it was conducted, it was achievement to be in the team when I was in first year as we still had the last batch of annual scheme and a lot of players from 2nd to 4th year. I remember the team had more than 70 percent of players from final year and annual scheme, and there were only Rajeev and me that played from 1st year. We won the tournament all the three years and I also had the privilege of being the captain of the team when we won the tournament during my final year.
After the engineering days I still continued playing football regularly for the next 3-4 years. During this period I also experienced my most difficult time on personal front, staying alone in an isolated room for reasons I can not detail, being away from my complete family for the first and only time, football being only recreation and the saving grace. The trying times for any normal person became truly an enjoyable time for me that was the time I realized that I do not need anyone or anything in the world as long as I had football. I realised that throughout my life with its moments of despair, playing football was the most important aspect which kept me happy and healthy.
The regular work timing has almost completely stopped me from playing football since 2004, and as they say in football 6 years is a very long time, which I realized the hard way in the occasional games I play with my nephews and their friends these days. I am rusty and with a pouch the size of a small football, it is battle to keep up with the younger lot, but I still try my best.
After all these years living with football and giving it the most priority even more then some of my loved ones, I hope atleast few will be able to understand why I keep saying football is my passion. Let me conclude by quoting the famous phrase of Bill Shankly, who was a good player and even greater manager, notably for Liverpool “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that”.